J.B. Pritzker Defeats Incumbent Bruce Rauner in a Landslide After Spending Almost 3X the Cash

by Aanika Patel, Class of 2020

Headshot_Aanika Patel.jpg

On Election Day 2018, the State of Illinois elected Democratic venture capitalist and heir to Hyatt fortune, J.B. Pritzker as its next governor. Pritzker defeated Republican incumbent and former private equity executive Bruce Rauner by earning 54.2% of the vote to Rauner 39.2%. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners announced an unofficial turnout rate of 55.6% making this the highest midterm turnout rate in 32 years and with more than 850,000 voters ballots cast, well above the approximately 696,000 ballots cast in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

Beyond the high turnout for the election, this race was marked by its candidates – two successful businessmen willing to self-fund in unprecedented ways.

Rauner, 62, has served as Illinois’ governor since 2015. His campaign focused on claims surrounding historic changes his administration made around education funding, healthcare and criminal justice reform and taxpayer savings. He called for an even more transformative second term with reduction in property and income taxes to spur economic growth.

Pritzker, 53, beat out a crowded slate of primary candidates by a wide margin to claim the Democratic ticket. His campaign focused on balancing the budget with a revised tax structure, stronger funding for public education including vocational training in high school, raising the minimum wage, and opposing union-busting policies.

Pritzker and Rauner combined spent approximately $250 million by the end of the race. Both candidates represent two of the top ten highest self-funded candidates. Pritzker has self-funded $162 million to Rauner’s $58 million making this the race with the most self-funded dollars in U.S. history. Primarily on ads: Mr. Pritzker has spent more than $77 million on advertising, dwarfing the more than $36 million spent by Mr. Rauner. This change represents what we’ve seen in U.S. politics for decades - whoever spends the most, typically wins. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight indicated that for House seats, more than 90% of candidates who spend more win. Pritzker followed this trend.

Leading up to the election, both candidates also experienced controversy. Twenty days before the election, ten current and former members of the Pritzker campaign filed a federal lawsuit indicating discrimination against Black and Latino staff members. The lawsuit stated that those members were “herded” into less desirable jobs while their white counterparts had more desirable jobs with opportunities for advancement. The employees were seeking $7.5MM in punitive damages.

Rauner’s critics questioned how his administration addressed a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a state-run home for veterans in the town of Quincy in Western Illinois. The incident resulted in a dozen deaths. In October of this year, the state attorney general opened an investigation into the administration’s handling of the problem including whether any laws were violated that contributed to the deaths.

Despite the controversies and generally high campaign spending rates between both candidates for the campaign, Pritzker was consistently the front runner in the polls. 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton won Illinois’ electoral votes by 17 points indicating a strong Democratic lean across the state. Polling data as early as October 2017 through as late as the week prior to the election saw Pritzker leading from between 9 and 22 points. Final polling data in the days before the election had Pritzker up by 16 points with Pritzker eventually defeating Rauner by 15 points.

Pritzker will be inaugurated on January 14, 2019 as Illinois’ 43rd governor.